Welcome Chance Intrusions!
I once heard this theory:
Is this theory true?
- East Coast dancers focus on definitions and rules, categorizing then standardizing the categorization. Does it belong in this box or that box? Which style is correct? So there is understandably an emphasis on technique, more specifically on defining and enforcing one correct technique.
- West Coast dancers focus more on the way dance feels — the subjective experience of dancing. How does it impact us? How can we enhance the experience for our partners? West Coast thinking therefore embraces more creativity and flexibility, to adapt to partners who are different from our own style.
No. There are too many exceptions — many rule-based dancers living on the West Coast, and many adaptive, experienced-based dancers living on the East Coast, like the history of the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem for example. And the theory ignores the dancers between the coasts.
The geographical division is an oversimplification. So I prefer to think of it as a difference between vertical thinking versus lateral thinking, which can happen anywhere.
Vertical and Lateral Thinking
These terms were coined by the theoretician Edward deBono who wrote:
Welcoming chance intrusions is one of the fundamental components of creative thinking. Lateral-thinking dancers see differences from what they expected to happen as opportunities, not mistakes.
- Vertical thinking is selective, lateral thinking is generative.
- Vertical thinking selects a pathway by excluding other pathways (leading to the jokes about "illegal moves" in strictly ballroom dance). Lateral thinking does not restrict, but seeks to open up new pathways.
- Correctness is what matters in vertical thinking. Richness is what matters in lateral thinking.
- Vertical thinking moves only if there are directions on how to move. Lateral thinking moves in order to generate directions.
- Vertical thinking depends heavily on the rigidity of definitions. It often depends on identifying something as a member of some class or excluding it from that class. If something is given a label or put into a class, it is supposed to stay there. With lateral thinking, classifications and categories are not fixed pigeonholes, but signposts to help navigation.
- Lateral thinking welcomes chance intrusions. With lateral thinking one welcomes outside influences for their provocative action.
Word of the Day: Pedantic
Some advice from long ago is timeless, like this from a 19th century dance manual:
"Never be pedantic on a dance floor."
pedantic adj., 1. characterized by a narrow, often ostentatious concern for formal rules; overly concerned with what are thought to be correct rules and details; marked by a narrow, often tiresome focus on or display of learning and especially its trivial aspects.
2. narrowly, stodgily, and often ostentatiously learned.
3. unimaginative, pedestrian.
Etymology: From ped, form of piede, foot, in meaning of servile follower.
(Random House Dictionary)
Never forget that social dance is social.
According to original Whitey's Lindy Hoppers superstar Leon James (shown at right),
"Want to dance Lindy Hop correctly? Then don't be real concerned about 'correctness'!"
But lateral thinking isn't better for all kinds of dancing.
As I wrote on this page, I believe that both vertical and lateral thinking are valid where appropriate. Rule-based vertical thinking makes perfect sense for ballet and competition ballroom dance for example. You can't hold a competition unless everyone agrees on the rules.
But one of the strangest mismatches you'll find in the dance world is when someone applies a rigidly vertical thinking attitude to a lateral thinking dance form, like Lindy hop, Argentine tango, West Coast Swing, salsa or blues. Those dances were born and bred in cultures which valued spontaneity, flexibility and personal variations. The original spirit of those dances is lost if their freedom is replaced by an emphasis on rules and restrictions.
Skippy Blair wrote the following while describing West Coast Swing, but she could have been writing about waltz, tango or any truly social dance:
The most fascinating part of swing dancing is the individuality of the dancers. Stylings are flexible… the style one chooses should be as individual as the clothes one chooses to wear. The only problem that exists in swing is when someone decides there is only ONE WAY to dance it. (The caps were hers.)
Keep the spirit alive!
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